We Are Obsessing over the Wrong Election

TED Talks make you think. I’ve recently become obsessed with TED Talks. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, check out ted.com. Better yet check out their YouTube channel at https://www.youtube.com/ted

TED is a nonprofit organization that promotes sharing of ideas. Originally it focused on Technology, Entertainment, and Design which is what the letters TED denote. However TED conferences today cover a wide variety of topics including science, business, and global politics. They host conferences all over the world that consist of presentations no more than 18 minutes long by experts in every field you can imagine. I could go on all day about the interesting things I’ve learned but TED is about sharing ideas and I’ve got some to share.

I recently found a TED presentation that called me to task about my own political activism. It was by a woman named Alessandra Orofino from Brazil. Her presentation was to “It’s our city. Let’s fix it”. You can click on that title see it. It only runs about 15 minutes.

In the beginning of her talk, she cites statistics such as the fact that most of what we consider global problems are actually concentrated in cities. Our cities have the greatest poverty, contribute the most to global warming, they are where the crimes occur. If you want to fix the world you need to start by fixing the cities and you need to start with your own city. She goes on to point out that municipal elections have the absolute worst turnout rate of any kind of election. In Brazil it is mandatory that you vote in their elections. Yet 30% of the people either voted and then invalidated their ballot or they stayed home altogether and decided to pay the fine for failure to vote. I don’t have any statistics about Indianapolis but I know it’s been decades since I bothered to vote in a municipal election. Indianapolis city elections are on the third year of the four year cycle. That’s this year.

This prompted me to realize that we are obsessing over the wrong election. We are totally obsessed with the presidential election because we are totally obsessed with the presidency. We call the President of the United States “The Leader of the Free World” and “The most powerful man in the country”. That’s because the United States is a leader among nations and our president is the leader of our entire country.

But what about me?

What about the job of President of the United States directly affects me on a daily basis? Will my life change one iota depending on whether or not my next president did or did not have a private email server in her previous job? I’m never going to have an abortion and although I oppose abortion for a variety of reasons most of which are not religious, the legality of abortion doesn’t affect me directly and apart from appointing Supreme Court justices, the president has no impact on that hot button topic either. These past few years have shown us that when the president and Congress are divided, nothing gets done.

But what about the mayor or the City Council or the school board? Depending on how the mayor does his job, I either do or do not have sufficient police to make my day-to-day life safe. I either do or do not get my street plowed in the winter. I either do or do not have to buy new tires for my car because the potholes don’t get fixed. If I had children, I either would or would not get a quality education for my kids depending upon the school board. My nephew had to pay hundreds of dollars to rent an iPad because the school requires it but doesn’t provide. This is despite the fact that the Constitution of the State of Indiana requires them to provide a “free and appropriate public school education” to all children. I believe it’s just as unfair to charge a $30 book rental fee as it is to charge $100 iPad rental. But what can I do about it? The city government is going to decide whether or not to tear down my house or my favorite store or restaurant for some other purpose.

Our local city government probably affects our personal lives hundreds of times more than anything that the president does on a regular basis. But I know nothing about city government and I consider myself a reasonably knowledgeable political junkie. I don’t know if the mayor is up for election this year. I don’t know who is running against him if he is. I’ve been a diehard, bleeding heart, liberal Democrat for my entire and I don’t know if our mayor is a Democrat or Republican and I don’t know if our City Council is majority Democrat or Republican.

Recently there was a proposal before the City Council to spend millions of dollars on a new Justice Center. It would house municipal jails and court rooms. It’s construction would create hundreds of jobs and continued operation would likely create jobs as well. It would renovate an abandoned factory that is a blight to its neighborhood. Yet there were serious questions about the cost and scope of the project. After going back and forth between the Council and its committees several times, the project failed to get enough support to pass.

While I don’t want my mayor or City Council spending that kind of money without doing due diligence, especially in light of that one police command center that they recently had to abandon because the building was unsafe… Even if this project was a boondoggle, I can’t believe that it was proposed on someone’s whim. Some reasonably intelligent and thoughtful people developed, refined, presented, and promoted that project because they saw some kind of need. So maybe it was a bad idea or too expensive or whatever multitude of reasons councilmembers had for rejecting it. But where does that leave us now? What unmet need that this new Justice Center was supposed to meet is not going to be met? I don’t know. No one is saying.

Will our municipal courts be bogged down? Will our jails overflow resulting in inhumane treatment of prisoners some of whom might actually be innocent? Will that overcrowding resulted in the early release of people who should not be released? Everyone talks about the project itself but not the needs. I watch the local news early evening and late night and sometimes at noon every day and I feel totally ill-equipped to voice an opinion on that particular situation.

Our city is suffering right now from a rash of gun violence. An innocent bystander, a mother of five, was caught in the crossfire of a shootout at a filling station at 38th and Lafayette Road. That is so close to me that I actually heard the gunshots through my bedroom window that night. I heard the shots that killed that woman. Another young man was run over by a car while trying to escape the gunfire. That incident was at 2:30 AM. This week there was another shooting right across the street from where my dad buys our pizza. It happened 4:30 PM very close to the time when he might’ve been picking up a pizza.

But I know jack shit about my mayor, my City Council, or any other municipal government issues. We are all obsessed with the wrong elections. It is a sin that I know more about Donald Trump than I do Greg Ballard. I just had to Google “Mayor of Indianapolis” because I couldn’t remember Ballard’s first name. And I like politics.

I’m ashamed of myself and my guess is you should be too.

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